Don’t get “too” excited – yet…
This desert city will soon play host to the Soccer World Cup and it’s quickly becoming one of the most talked about cities on earth. Before you and the floods of other travelers venture into Qatar, there are a few things you should know before your first trip to Doha. In short: it’s like going to a hotel before it’s ready to open.
Here are a few helpful and practical tips to help you enjoy a seamless journey.
Qatar Airways is one of the best airlines in the world, with direct flights to Doha from countless countries around the world. We recently voted their business class the best in the business. But when you get to Doha, you’ll need a visa.
Fortunately, Qatar recently expanded its Visa On Arrival program to citizens of over 80 countries. Previously, most people hoping to enter the country needed a Visa arranged in advance – now you can simply receive one upon arrival. Confirm your nationality is eligible for Visa On Arrival – here.
Uber works in Qatar. However, the airport taxi companies are owned by the government and Uber drivers are often threatened or dissuaded from picking passengers up at the airport. Absolutely fire up the Uber app, but just be aware of this in advance. Taxis will also work just fine, from approved taxi ranks. If you’re unsure – arrange transportation via your hotel in advance.
The drive into most city hotels is not a long one, so figure less than a half hour door to door, and an insanely cheap fare.
In our opinion, Doha is not quite ready for business, at least not in the “wow, this place is amazing” tourism sense. That’s not to say you won’t have an amazing time basking in the abundant sun – but the city of Doha is currently a huge construction site.
The downtown area is gorgeous, but many of the attractions for tourists such as the Katara Cultural Center are being built and are not fully ready.
If however you’re coming purely to enjoy huge buffet spread and to relax at a resort pool, you’ll have a wonderful time. Like many of its neighbours, Qatar does hospitality very well. If you’re coming for anything else, perhaps hold off for a couple years.
There are two ways to earn free hotel nights in Qatar. First: Qatar Airways offers a free night on all flights which stopover in Qatar via their +Qatar stopover program. This applies to both economy and business class tickets. Second: Starwood Hotels has partnered with Mastercard to offer free nights in Qatar all year for multiple night stays. Full details here.
Common sense would be the rule of law here. Especially when visiting amazing museums such as the Museum of Islamic Art, respectful clothing is advised. And by the way, the Museum Of Islamic Art was our favourite attraction, in part due to its iconic architecture.
Hijabs are not required in most of the city, but dressing conservatively is the smartest way to be. At the hotel pool however, go crazy – within reason. In other words: show respect to local customs when out at restaurants or in public areas, just as you would anywhere else.
Spoiler alert: the souks are almost entirely tourist traps – especially Souq Waqif.
Though they’ve been built to resemble something ancient – they’re brand new and have a history which is more than likely much shorter than yours. Do not get any Arabian fairy tale ideas while buying mass produced goods here. The food however, is solid.
Katara cultural village will eventually be an upscale place to hang out and enjoy a variety of things from movies to big nights out – but for now, it’s under construction, like most things. Maybe next year?
You can buy alcohol in Qatar – but only in hotels. And you can’t bring it into the country with you – though you can purchase some on your way out, at Duty Free. Repeat: you cannot bring alcohol into the country of Qatar.
You won’t be able to grab a drink at standard restaurants. Expect prices to be inflated to account for the strict import of alcohol. Many Qatar Airways tickets also include Duty Free discounts, just FYI. Qatar also recently imposed a “sin tax” which makes drinking in your hotel bar more expensive than ever.
Almost all the cultural things you may want to do are along the waterfront either on the city or Corniche side. The view from the Museum of Islamic Art is stunning. The waterfront is calm, peaceful and offers nice walks – perhaps once the sun has cooled down a bit. Doha is a very safe city, so feel free to wander and explore anything that catches the eye. It’s beautiful coastline.